The Sun Years, Conclusion: From Radio Free America To A Radio Free Agent

As 1993 dawned, I was starting my fourth year as a Sun Radio Network board operator slash producer.  I’d logged over 4,000 hours of seat time on a nationally syndicated radio network, and would work every hour of the clock during the course of a week at one point or another.  I’d seen numerous hosts, shows, and board operators come and go, and yet at the age of 21, I was still there.  Was I doing a good job, or was it just the dumb luck of doing good work at the right time?

By the start of 1993, we were no longer a 24 hour a day outfit.  We were on the air 3pm to midnight during the weekdays, 8am to 8pm on the weekends.  Three years prior, it was reported that it cost SRN $202,000 a month to run, $166,000 of that coming from Liberty Lobby, a controversial organization believed by the media to be Anti-Semetic.  With 60% of the on air time now gone, it now cost them much less to stay afloat.

Around that time, give or take a few months, I began to get offers from other radio stations and networks.  Mort Crowley, a radio legend in the Midwest who did a show for us on SRN in 1991, wanted me to go down the street and work for Sonny Bloch’s Independent Broadcasters Network, citing the shaky ground SRN was now on.  But I hung tough.  Regardless of the reputation and the checkered history SRN was a part of, their checks didn’t bounce, and I was still there.  Switching to the rival IBN would, or so I thought at the time, burn my bridges at SRN and give me one less option should IBN ever find the same shaky ground.

By that time, I had become the main producer for Tom Valentine’s Radio Free America, Liberty Lobby’s flagship show.  Despite my trepidation earlier on, Tom was a smooth operator to work with.  The key to running his show was simple: not to be distracted, and to pay attention as much as humanly possible.  Failing to do that pissed Tom off, and in all honesty, that would piss off anyone.

Much like Chuck Harder’s show, Tom’s was a blueprint for Alex Jones to follow a generation later.  Many of the guests heard on Tom’s show in the 1990’s I have also heard on Alex’s show all these years later.  We had Congressman Ron Paul on our show back then more than once.  Another congressman at that time, Joe Scarboruogh was also a guest I remember talking to, long before he had that morning show on MSNBC.  My favorite frequent guest was L. Fletcher Prouty, the inspiration for the “Mr. X” character in the movie JFK.  Mr. Prouty was a very easy going guy, easy for an average Joe uninformed about the Kennedy assassination as I was back then to talk to while the news was playing.

One of the more interesting nights I had in that stretch was March 12, 1993.  I had the 6pm to midnight shift, leaving the house at about 5pm to handle the rush hour traffic I usually found on Ulmerton Road around that time, making the 20-25 minute commute under average conditions a 45 minute one.  The news on this Friday night was that a very strong squall line was heading for the Tampa Bay area by about midnight, and the local stations were already on high alert even before I left for work.

By about 11:30 that night, my shift was half an hour from being over.  At 12, I’d sign the network off until about 8am.  I’m sitting in the control room, listening to Tom Valentine doing his show, but also hearing a loud roar of wind on the roof that I’d never heard before or since.  What if we get hit by a tornado?  We never discussed emergency plans, so the best course of action would be to go to tape and get my ass under the large table where the control board sat.  An engineer from WBRQ, better known in the Tampa Bay area as Q-105, called up.  They were the up-link point for our signal to make its way to the satellite receiving it several hundred miles into space, and WRBQ was having problems getting our signal.  I was the only one in the building at that point, and I knew this was the storm’s doing and that there was nothing I could do.

Somehow, we get off the air at midnight without further incident.  The ride back home to southwest Largo was a frightful one, as trees and other debris were all over the place on Ulmerton Road.  The Bay Area got hurricane force gusts as the night progressed, and I don’t think I got a wink of sleep that night at home.  My next shift wasn’t until 8am to 2pm on Sunday, but I kept thinking that an emergency might arise to force me there sooner.  As it wound up, all went well, or as close to as well as it could with the weather conditions continuing on to a lesser extent for a few more days.

On Monday morning, May 10th, 1993, I was summoned to the network by Alicia, our switchboard operator.  I had a shift that evening, so something pretty big had to be taking place for me to be called in.  I was greeted by operations manager Stan Anderson, and after going to his office, he handed me a pink slip.  After almost two and a half years at SRN, my tenure there had come to a close.

I knew the day would come, eventually.  Stan told me that this was being done for the financial good of the company, to keep the company from folding all together. They had to decide who to keep and who not to keep, and this time I didn’t make the cut.  I waved my somber goodbyes to everyone there, and went back home to Largo and contemplated my future.

One thing I started to do in 1992 was to drive around the area when I wasn’t working.  Go up US 19 to the northern Suncoast, drive US 92 to Orlando, take I-75 south to Sarasota.  I paid attention to what other radio stations in neighboring markets were doing.  What out-of-town shows did they carry?  Would they need a board operator someday?  After getting my final paycheck plus money for unused vacations, I was about to see if I was a big fish in a small pond, or the much better outcome of being a small fish in a big pond.

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